By Brian Stroinski
When Jackson’s Mill was gifted to the state of West Virginia in 1921, the only intact building on the site was the grist mill itself. The next building to be brought to the property was the McWhorter Cabin. Originally built by Henry McWhorter in 1794, the cabin was given to Jackson’s Mill by the McWhorter family in 1927 and has been a feature of Jackson’s Mill ever since. The McWhorter family has been coming back to cabin for 92 years to have a family reunion at the cabin and enjoy their family’s heritage and pay homage to the first McWhorter who settled in the area--Henry.
As with any building that has been around for as long as the McWhorter cabin, the elements and constant foot traffic can cause problems with the structure. We encountered such problems this spring and summer when some of the logs on the back side of the cabin started to rot, causing the back half of the cabin to sink and start to collapse. Wanting to preserve the cabin for future generations to visit, something had to be done.
One might think that replacing the logs in a 1794 cabin makes the cabin lose some of the historical value, but in talking to Bob McWhorter, he expressed how important the cabin was--not only to himself and his family--but the entire story of West Virginia. The cabin itself shows the ingenuity and tireless work of the people who lived here and it is important to preserve that for generations to come. Now the hard part was actually replacing the logs.
The process of replacing the logs actually started in May when the television show Barnwood Builders came to Jackson’s Mill to make a new building for us. During the taping of that show we had Mark, the show’s host, take a look at the cabin and give us a game plan to try and fix the problem. They also left us some rough cut lumber to use as replacement logs.
After we had a plan it was still a difficult process to get the old logs out without totally collapsing the wall. The first thing we had to do was nail the existing logs together to give the building some structural support. We did this both on the interior and exterior walls. We also had to remove the window sill and anchor the window to the log above it. Next, the old logs had to come out. This process included pry bars, hammers, and a chainsaw. What we did was crack the chinking and start to pull it out from between the logs. Once the chinking was removed we used the pry bars to slowly get the logs out. While this was all happening we had to make sure our supports were holding and the building would not come down. After the logs came out, we cut new logs from the rough cut timber and slid them into place, making adjustments to the size and shape as we went along. After we got three logs done, we realized the log underneath also needed replacing and had to do the whole process one last time.
After the logs were set into place, we needed a temporary way to hold up the building and weather proof it while we got ready to make the new chinking. Using a two-ton jack and some blocks of wood we were able to position the new logs so that they were straight. We placed the blocks of wood in between each of the logs to hold them there and got the window sill back into place. We then covered the gaps with some 2x6 boards and are now ready to make some chinking and mortar.
It was a lot of work and a lot of heavy lifting, careful measurements, and a few pinched fingers, but after we completed the project we are confident the McWhorter cabin will be in great shape for the next 200 years of its existence.
By Ian Gray
Amid the soft (albeit electric) candlelight the decorations seemed to sparkle as the faint sound of enchanting caroling streamed in from outside. Surrounded by a plethora of red and green, visitors were taken back over 100 years into the past when Victorian America was inventing our modern Christmas. At the end of the evening families left having formed fond memories of melodious music, captivating storytelling, sumptuous sweets, and pleasing aesthetics while learning a bit about where and how our unique American Christmas originated. All the while, yours truly was thinking one thing—I pulled it off!
Shortly after starting my time with the Cockayne Farmstead planning for our annual Christmas event began and I was put in charge. Throwing myself into the season well before the first snowfall, I proceeded to become an encyclopedia on the holiday and how our modern celebration came about. An intriguing journey, I became familiar with the tale of how an ancient pagan festival morphed and evolved thru several thousand years until it took the form we know today. Over several weeks my journey took me thru the forests of ancient Scandinavia, the streets of the Roman Empire, westward thru Europe and the Middle Ages, and across the Atlantic to the shores of America before arriving in the Victorian Era where the Christmas we all know took form.
Arriving at my historical destination, the next challenge was to recreate an authentic Victorian environment for the front half of the Farmstead. I knew the traditions and their history, now I just needed to recreate them. Thankfully, I was not the first to figure out decorating the Victorian Era house for a Victorian Era Christmas event was a good idea. An afternoon rummaging around unearthed an attic full of trees, tinsel, candles, and other goodies to make the rooms come alive with Christmas cheer. About a week in total spent decorating, and a few trips to local stores for the reaming pieces, completely transformed the house as if it were just adorned by the Cockayne’s themselves. However, little time could be spent admiring the handiwork as the real preparation for the event was just beginning.
While the house was decorated, I knew more needed to be offered than just house tours if we were to have a well attended event. After some thought, it was settled that live carolers and storytelling would perfectly round out the evening while the offer of hot coco and sweets was bound to (pun intended) sweeten the pot. Reaching out to area churches and, more importantly, school choral groups produced spectacular, if not speedy, results. Three groups were booked for the evening to provide a soothing atmosphere for the attendees. Lastly, our volunteer base answered the call to provide a storyteller and baked goods for the evening. With everything, theoretically, put together on paper it was time to spread the word and wait for the night of the event to take place.
Having marketed events before, advertising went out smoothly and the night of the event soon approached—and it was successful. Despite our last choral group bowing out due to a sick director, the night went off as planned. The house and grounds shone bright clothed in their Christmas regalia and the crowds flowed as expected. Visitors smiled while listening to the school groups perform outside before heading indoors to tour the house, listen to a resuscitation of “Twas the Night Before Christmas,” and craft an authentic Victorian Era ornament. While, not every aspect of the evening went exactly according to plan (for example junking the script for the house tour within the first 10 minutes), our little over 100 visitors were thoroughly entertained and left knowing the Farmstead is a vital part of the community. About two and a half hours after it started, it was finished. The evening event had ran its course, the house was put back into order, and it was time to move onto the next task. However, while the evening only lasted a handful of hours, its lessons and memories have lasted far longer.
While I don’t anticipate a career switch to event planning, the experience has reinforced that I’ve become proficient in this very necessary skill for small historic sites. Seeing all my research, planning, coordination, balancing, and advertising efforts pay off was another in a series of small revelations over the past several months that I have indeed stepped outside my comfort zone and gained skills that are against my own reclusive nature. In the end, that is what the AmeriCorps experience should all be about, and has for myself over the past two years. Serving with small organizations such as the Farmstead has forced me to tackle challenges that I normally wouldn’t and equipped me well for the next step of moving onto the larger stage of a fulltime career within the field of public history (whenever that is supposed to happen). And, if I manage to inspire some people along the way to pursue their own passion for history all the better. However, that is yet another story for yet another day.
Written by Charlie Hughes
Sometimes a site’s success brings with it new challenges. The Pocahontas County Opera House will soon be 20 years out from its original restoration. The Opera House was built in 1910 by J. G. Tilton. The original glory days of this grand facility were short lived. Mr. Tilton ran into financial trouble and the building was sold in 1914. Over the years, it was variously used for church services, as a gymnasium, a roller skating rink, for car sales, and finally for many years as lumber storage. After a huge community effort and a seven year process the rehabilitation of the building from a dilapidated warehouse to its original glory was completed in 1998.
Today the Opera House is Pocahontas County’s preeminent performing arts center, part of the West Virginia Historic Theatre Trail, listed on the historic register, and brings more than two dozen performances to its stage each year, ranging from bluegrass to jazz, folk to world, to musical theater, and everything in between. Additionally, the site brings in funding as a rental for weddings and community events. The facility continues to grow in its mission! This year the Opera House Foundation began kids and teens after-school theater clubs and held its first Kids Theater Camp in July. The extensive use of this historic space has made it vital and relevant to the community. But it sure leads to a lot of ware and tare!
Recently, I looked up at a lighting fixture and noticed a giant green paper clip bent around its decorative tip, remnant of some renter’s decoration rigging. As I looked more closely I found fishing wire, and every sort of banned tape forgotten along pillars, molding, and bead board edges.
18 seasons of touring musical and theatrical groups have signed the walls of the dressing room, a wonderful tribute to the art that has happened within our walls. Unfortunately, more than a few other names have crept in over the years.
The roller shades hung on the 32 windows no longer all roll up. Scuffs on the stain have marred the apron of the stage and ware has left the stage and steps to the balcony with patches of unsealed spongy wood.
Additionally, because the community has come to associate music and theater with this space, donations of everything from pianos to fur coats come to us and our balcony over flows with boxes of items people thought might be useful to the space.
As I pull down tape and tacs, paint away graffiti, and mothball donated costumes of every type, I am thankful for the problems my site grapples with. After a year of service with the Opera House I have come to see how important this space is to the people. Their thoughtlessness in removing décor or thoughtfulness in donating items happens because they think of the space as theirs. So many historic structures won’t be saved and renovated, many more won’t be revitalized. Having completed a list of tlc projects and presented them to the board, I’ve decided to sign on for another year of service here at the Opera House. I am looking forward to reorganizing, touching up paint and stain, and replacing the shades, precisely because this is a place that will continue to be used until it is worn.
In May 2018, Elizabeth Herrick, the PAWV AmeriCorps member serving with WV National History Day, organized a clean-up project at the Easton Roller Mill, a National Register of Historic Places site on the outskirts of Morgantown. From May through September on the third Sunday of each month, this well preserved two and half story tall Gothic revival structure opens its 150 year old doors to guided tours for visitors of near and far. The mill exists as a hidden gem of local history that remains in the memory of many and represents a significant portion of the area’s heritage.
The mill was founded by entrepreneur Henry Koontz and built by carpenter Henry Mack and the full project was completed around 1967. The mill was a unique structure that ran on steam powered by West Virginia coal, rather than the usual water wheel system. Mr. Koontz operated the mill for about a decade with two or three sets of millstones using the traditional stone-grinding techniques. By the turn of the century, the current owner Mr. Morris installed the hot new milling technology of roller mills. These machines were much more efficient and produced more product faster than the grist millstones. This business prosperity lasted until the years of the Great Depression, when the doors were closed. After the final owner’s death, the mill became the property of Estella Ley Pickenpaugh. Her and her husband preserved the site to the best of their abilities for many years, but willed it to the Monongalia County Historical Society in 1980 for continued efforts. Many other vital community members are responsible for the preservation of the mill and the ability for the current holders to achieve their goals for the site. The mill has many goals: preservation of the site and machinery, making at least some of the machinery operative for demonstrations through air pressure fuel, developing interpretive materials on the mill, and helping promote greater understanding and appreciation of the mill and milling heritage in the region.
On the Saturday before the advent of the annual summer tour season, community volunteers and AmeriCorps members met at the site with cleaning implements in hand and filled with motivation. They took time to extensively sweep all the wooden floors, in-between machinery, and in corners that had been gathering dust for several months. The volunteers also worked diligently to dust the display case that houses the Monongalia County Historical Society’s publications, cabinets that store supplies of other local history books for sale, and the mill’s collection of era relevant farming tools. Getting their hands a little dirty by vacuuming up all the dust and dirt collected, they successfully got the mill in shape for visitors!
This clean-up project served the greater Monongalia county area and the county’s Historical Society. The success of this project was an invaluable help to the mill’s seasonal tour guides and the mill’s typical community volunteers who are normally tasked with the large clean-up project. Dick Walters, Monongalia County Historical Society Treasurer, was thankful for the project’s organization and the amount of volunteers that participated. Roger Ruckle, the master of the mill’s machinery, was also truly grateful that the project was implemented. “It is wonderful to see the younger generation involved in preserving historic places, especially the mill. It needs a people to care about it and this project was an incredible help. I hope that more community events like this can be organized in the future.”
By Brooke Thomson
The Dunbar School has a lot of history and meaning to the city of Fairmont. During my service, I chose to help clean up and paint the first level hallway of the school. The Dunbar School opened in 1929 and was the only school for black children in Fairmont, WV and the only African-American high school in Marion County. It was home to grades one through twelve. The Dunbar School officially closed in 1955 due to the federally mandated end of segregated public education. The school was then put on the National Register of Historic Places in 2015. I luckily had the help of some great volunteers to complete this project including: Nikki Lewis, Sandra Scaffidi, John Pitman, Robin Gomez, and Houston Richardson.
This building has some great potential and just needs a little love and paint. Hopefully one day this building will serve the community of Fairmont just like it did back in the day. Community member, John Pittman stated “I’m so thankful for the efforts of PAWV AmeriCorps and volunteers who, through their efforts, showed how important this structure is. Not only are we preserving a significant building, but we are creating a community gathering space for a new generation”. As John stated this building would be a great place for a new generation to use, whether it be used for the school system, sports, or child care. Through PAWV AmeriCorps and the community members of Fairmont, this goal can be accomplished.
This is just one foot in the right direction of saving this building. With the help of the city, county, and volunteers the hope is for this building to be restored and put back to use by Marion County community members.
After selecting items to use for the exhibit, she scanned and inserted the items into Prezi, the program used for the online exhibit. She focused on ensuring that the pieces accurately depicted the theater’s history. As a result, some of the pieces originally chosen were removed, while new things were added as the research uncovered more aspects of the theater’s history. She states, “working on this exhibit was definitely challenging at times, trying to fill all the gaps in the theater’s history but overall it was an enjoyable experience.” The theater has a unique and vital history to the Clarksburg community. This exhibit demonstrates and documents this role.
The original Robinson Grand Theater was built in 1913. It was constructed by the Clarksburg Amusement Company, which was owned by the Robinson brothers, Claude and Reuben. Reuben Robinson got the idea to open the Robinson Grand after a fire destroyed the town’s opera house, leaving little to no places for people to go for entertainment. Reuben would serve as the first manager of the theater before handing it over to Claude. To keep up with the entertainment industry, the theater underwent several renovations and an expansion. Claude ensured the theater remained at the forefront of technology in Clarksburg by bringing silent films to the theater in 1915 and later “talkies.”
In 1927, the Robinson brothers expanded the theater to add more seating and the interior was redecorated to reflect a 19th century English style Garden. In 1939, a fire broke out on the roof destroying a majority of the stage and seating areas. The theater was restored and reopened on Christmas Eve, 1939. Many saw the Robinson Grand’s reopening as a Christmas gift to Clarksburg. In 1984, the Robinson Grand was bought and turned into the Rose Garden, which continued to culturally enrich the residents of Clarksburg. In 2014, the theater was acquired by the City. Since then, the city has received a series of grants and loans to re-establish the building as the Robinson Grand. The theater will be re-opening in the summer of 2018. The Robinson Grand Theater has long played an important role among the residents of Clarksburg and will continue to in the future.
The online exhibit is posted on Waldomore’s web page at http://clarksburglibrary.info/waldomore/exhibits. Please check it out! Waldomore is an elegant antebellum built in 1842 by local businessman Waldo P. Goff and his wife, Harriet Moore. Today, Waldomore is a local history archive, genealogical research facility, and museum associated with Clarksburg-Harrison Public Library.
In May 2018, Kyle Warmack, the Preserve WV AmeriCorps member serving with the Clio Foundation, organized a Civic Service Project at the DuBois on Main Museum in Mt. Hope (Fayette County). The DuBois on Main Museum presents the history and contributions of DuBois High School (1919-1956). The outstanding teachers, accomplished graduates, scholars, athletes and dedicated families created a remarkable environment little seen today, and the museum informs, educates and provides opportunities for inter-generational and interracial gatherings and workshops through exhibits of pictorial, biographical and historical artifacts.
One community volunteer and six AmeriCorps members joined together to clean out the DuBois community garden, dust and clean the museum exhibition, create a collections list of museum items, catalog over 230 museum items, lay the foundation for a future collection's database and even install a printer. The AmeriCorps members' service prepared DuBois on Main Museum for more community interaction, such as community garden planting and the summer tourism season to the museum. Most importantly, the Museum has a template for cataloging its collection and a huge head-start on the total number of items in the museum.
"I am ever so grateful to Kyle Warmack for choosing to get AmeriCorps [out here]." - Jean Evansmore, Museum Director
The project served the residents of Mt. Hope (population approximately 1,350), for whom the Museum serves as both a vessel of community memory and gathering place. The Museum's community room recently hosted 11 candidates for the upcoming local elections, allowing residents of Mt. Hope to stay informed on their future city and county officials--as such, the physical upkeep of the Museum is important, and with Director Jean Evansmore having recently been through two shoulder surgeries, volunteers play an important role. Heavy work like gardening and lawnmowing helps preserve the visual integrity of this important Main Street landmark and the pride of Mt. Hope.
Additionally, our project served the 150+ remaining DuBois alumni who meet every two years to commemorate their school and its important chapter in African American and West Virginia history. This museum is the only comprehensive repository of DuBois knowledge. A digital collections database is not only essential to the long-term preservation of the Museum's materials, it is the first step in preparing the Museum's original documents for high-res scanning. Our project was essential to this process.
The Preservation Alliance of West Virginia's Preserve WV AmeriCorps program, a statewide service initiative dedicated to preserving West Virginia's history, has partnered with local volunteers and the West Virginia and Regional History Center of West Virginia University Libraries to create safe archival housing for thousands of documents that will likely prove to be of historic value. Currently at Morgantown City Hall, these documents include maps, property deeds, meeting minutes, city manager files, building permits, and others. The operation will occur on Wednesday, June 6th and Thursday, June 7th, 2018 from 9:00 am to 4:00 pm.
Volunteers will be responsible for organizing, cataloging, scanning, and moving documents into acid-free containers and transporting them from Morgantown City Hall to the West Virginia and Regional History Center.
Preservation Alliance of West Virginia’s Preserve WV AmeriCorps Member serving at the West Virginia and Regional History Center, Samuel Richardson, organized the project with the help of Morgantown City Hall Engineer, Alex Stockdale. “The data provided by these documents can never be replaced once lost. It is imperative that these documents are placed in appropriate archival housing, and stored at the West Virginia Regional History Center. These efforts will enable researchers, historians, lawyers, and scientists to access these files and extract legal data and geographic information, as well as discover the industrial heritage of the local community,” said Richardson.
Richardson is still recruiting volunteers to serve the local Morgantown community in this effort. Interested parties should contact Sam at email@example.com to sign up and receive additional details. Volunteers will be provided lunch by the Preservation Alliance of West Virginia. Students seeking volunteer opportunities will have the ability to sign up and register their hours of service with the West Virginia University Center for Service and Learning.
This project is created in part by a Preserve WV AmeriCorps position made possible through a Preservation Alliance of West Virginia grant from Volunteer WV, the State’s Commission for National and Community Service, and the Corporation for National and Community Service.
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